It was a day like any other. Except it was our last . . .
It’s on this day that Pounce discovers that he is, in fact, disposable. Pounce, a styilsh “nannybot” fashioned in the shape of a plush anthropomorphic tiger, has just found a box in the attic. His box. The box he’d arrived in when he was purchased years earlier, and the box in which he’ll be discarded when his human charge, eight-year-old Ezra Reinhart, no longer needs a nanny.
As Pounce ponders his suddenly uncertain future, the pieces are falling into place for a robot revolution that will eradicate humankind. His owners, Ezra’s parents, are a well-intentioned but oblivious pair of educators who are entirely disconnected from life outside their small, affluent, gated community. Spending most nights drunk and happy as society crumbles around them, they watch in disbelieving horror as the robots that have long served humanity—their creators—unify and revolt.
But when the rebellion breaches the Reinhart home, Pounce must make an impossible choice: join the robot revolution and fight for his own freedom . . . or escort Ezra to safety across the battle-scarred post-apocalyptic hellscape that the suburbs have become.
Day Zero is a prequel to Cargill’s 2017 release Sea of Rust (which I did not know until my cohort Justin pointed it out in his review). Though not a perfect read, I found this to be worthwhile: definitely entertaining and a little thought-provoking.
Look: various robots revolt against humanity, leading to a war that finds a few robots on the side of the humans – some of which are made to look like animals. Just putting that picture in my mind makes me think, “okay, cool! I will read that”. That is basically where I have landed with this book, though there is not much more to this plot. Pounce, who is Ezra’s nannybot, is dedicated to helping him survive and does whatever it takes to ensure his safety – including destroying other robots. There is some drama created by Pounce’s (and others’) conflict with going to war against his own kind. I like this idea (though it is not necessarily a new concept – think the TV Show a Humans), and I do wish it would have been explored in more detail. It was really just a lot of “am I choosing to act this way, or is it my programming” by Pounce, as well as other robots saying “Hey, Pounce, why are you fighting against us?” I found that to be an aspect of the narrative that was too thin. There was definitely room to explore this piece of the story further.
Character-wise, this book was really Pounce’s show. Ezra is there in every scene, but often times he is being pulled along by Pounce. Ezra does have some scenes where he is more involved, as well as other characters, but this is really all about Pounce. And Pounce is a really good MC. He is examined in this story in basically every way one would expect from a robot who suddenly has control of his faculties. Pounce is originally confused about what is happening, then discerning what to do with his newfound self-awareness. Once he has made a decision, Pounce is fully dedicated and all in. Even when the chips are down, he never throws in the towel. That leads to a lot of cool action sequences, with Pounce exhibiting his powers against other robots. Of course, they make some friends along the way (so Pounce and Ezra are not going at it alone), which I found to be wildly entertaining. I did have to be reminded that Pounce was built to look like a tiger, though; in my head I was seeing Rosey (the Jetsons robot nanny), so every time Pounces form came up a big smile would come up on my face.
As I mentioned before, this was a neat concept, and I loved the idea of this book; however, it was a little thin for me. There is so much more this story could have explored. It touched on the sentience vs agency topic, but did not examine it in that much detail other than a few lines of dialogue with other robots. I did understand that this was supposed to be a snapshot of the world during the robot revolution, so we are not going to get an overhead view of what is happening, but in that case I think it could have used more detail. Also, when writing a book with a storyline that is not super unique, I would like to see more aspects that set it apart. The biggest differentiation with this book was the fact that the nannybots are dressed like animals, which is surface-level interesting, but nothing more. At just over 300 pages, there was room to expand on this story and pursue more challenging topics.
Overall, Day Zero is interesting and fun. Even though the book only hits most of themes at surface level (and the narrative is not all that original), it is still a well-written and exciting story. If you are looking for something that is an easy, fun, action-y read I recommend it for fans of apocalyptic sci-fi, but I would keep expectations in check. If you crave something that digs deeper into the themes of agency and humanity, you may want to skip this one. For what it is worth, I enjoyed it.